Album Reviews

Issue 2024-025

Catalyst*R — Pace Of Change

UK
2024
60:49
Catalyst*R - Pace Of Change
Pace Of Change (11:32), Dust Within The Seams (6:37), Ghosts On The Radio (5:50), Homesick (10:41), Unbroken (5:33), Pendle Hill 1612 (16:12), We'll Say Goodbye In The Rain (4:24)
7
Thomas Otten

Catalyst*R started as a project in 2020 during the pandemic upon the initiative of vocalist Damien Child (formerly with ESP-Project), who was looking for partners to form a musical cooperation at a time when production involving physical presence was restrained. He found Gary Jevon (Ex-This WInter Machine), and the two were joined by Greg Pringle (previously with Simon Townsend amongst others). This "music special purpose-entity" produced a self-titled debut in 2021, favourably received in the prog community, and reviewed positively on our site, without ever having met physically. The encouraging reactions seem to have been enough motivation to reiterate and consolidate their cooperation - and the result Pace Of Change was released in March 2024 with Damien on vocals, Greg on drums and Gary playing everything else that is audible on the album. Whether the production again did take place remotely or in the "usual way" is beyond my knowledge. The same applies with respect to whether after album number two, one may call Catalyst*R a band or whether they remain project-oriented.

Catalyst*R is formed of experienced musicians who each brought their individual musical backgrounds and preferences into the project. The possibility of being able to contribute to the collaboration by realising one's own musical ideas based on these backgrounds is even said to have been the key prerequisite for entering into it. Despite a broad spectrum of combined musical background including film music, rock, (Brit)pop, soul, metal, and musicals, it is the symphonic sounding neo prog as their common denominator making it easy for the musicians to satisfy their self-actualisation needs (and to fulfil the main cooperation requirement).

"We've brought in echoes of Marillion, early-2000s era Porcupine Tree, and cinematic soundscapes, whilst still wearing our other individual influences on our sleeves." That is how the band itself describes their musical approach. Jadis, Pallas, Twelfth Night, Arena, IQ plus many other more recent bands influenced by those pioneers can be added as sources of inspiration, in my opinion.

The music presented on this release can be pigeonholed as neo-prog with a tendency towards rock and AOR. I.e., with some minor exceptions (especially during the longer tracks), it is of the accessible, easy to digest nature and with all the ingredients and characteristics inherent in this style. We hear dramatic, and melancholic vocals, multi-layered keyboards, catchy melodies, melodic guitar and keyboard soloing, soft, subtle parts altering with louder and heavier ones, frequent changes of mood and tempo.

It is the three long pieces that have the highest degree of complexity on this album, although complexity certainly is a relative term in progressive rock. We're talking about complexity from a neo-prog point of view here. The opening title track pulls out all the stops in this respect and provides some kind of "executive summary" of these characteristics mentioned above that can be heard on the entire album. It is, in my ears, the most varied song on the album, but I am missing a musical red thread a bit here and there, and the catchiness and accessibility of the other songs.

The shorter tracks are the more classic neo-prog ones. I like the melodious Dust Within The Seams with its melancholic piano arpeggios, and its sad undertone. The epic Pendle Hill 1612 is something like the centre-piece of the album. It translates into music the historical events of the Pendle Hill witch trials of 1612, belonging to the most famous and best recorded ones in English history. The conflicting emotions of the counterparts — hate and rage of the prosecutors, despair, confusion, and fear of the accused — are expressed in a realistic way through the dark and sometimes intimidating mood and atmosphere of the song, the dramatic vocals, the alternation of almost spacy sounding, and rough passages, and a melodic guitar solo towards the end. Well done!

I had only listened to their debut album during the process selecting albums from the DPRP review pipeline. That album whetted my appetite, but I must confess that at first, this sophomore album made me regret my decision a little. Then the true reviewing started, which, of course, involves repeated listening. And a bit to my surprise, my first impression vanished the more familiar I became with Catalyst*R's music. Pace Of Change is solid, varied, accessible, well-played and arranged neo-prog. Indeed, I would not go as far as calling this a style-defining album — the competition just is too extensive in that segment of prog. But it is more than "just another neo-prog release amongst many", and in the broad stream of neo-prog albums, this one not just floats along, but leaves its mark. Aficionados of that style, who don't mind the abundance of existing bands and new releases anyway, can do just as little wrong with this release as people using Pace Of Change to become more familiar with this prog music genre. For me, having listened to Catalyst*R, the number of the two handful or so neo-prog bands which I have a constant ear on has increased by one.

Pierce Drummer — Glider Dome

USA
2023
54:51
Pierce Drummer - Glider Dome
Glider Dome (2:21), Stop Code (2:55), Silver Man (1:58), Forbidden City (1:46), Oblivion (4:16), Escaping Earth (1:04), Ariel & Astrid (2:57), Captured (4:53), Divider (3:03), Boris & The Spider King (3:23), Dreams Become Truth (4:28), Resonator (2:45), Prophecy (4:23), The Clouds Above The Stars (1:40), The Vanishing (2:01), The Wedding (2:16), Sky Soldier (3:35), Intergalactic Stingers (1:39), 17 Suns (Munro's Eclipse) (3:20)
5
Jan Buddenberg

Two years in the making, Pierce Drummer presents Glider Dome. A sequel to his space opera that was started on his debut War Of Shadows, this second instalment narrates the adventures of flight commander Nathaniel Munro in the year 3535. As before, it involves a host of fictitious characters (a.o. Silver Man, Ariel, Astrid, Boris). Persons who Drummer, now solely responsible for compositions, performances, programming and production, gets to personify.

At least I assume Drummer acts out all these different persona, but given his generally monotonous and occasionally unintelligible computerised vocal delivery, I have no clue whether he actually does. The unfortunate absence of lyrics doesn't come to aid here either. So after quite a few listening sessions I'm still very much in the dark on what the story embedded within the experimental, avant-garde, synth-pop and new wave / EM orientated compositions really is all about.

From the first moment the music most certainly envisions an adventurous journey set in future with many of the compositions perfectly capturing the story's space element. To this star system made up out of Hawkwind hypnotics, Jean Michel Jarre fizzes, OMD synth flows, Pet Shop Boys synthetics, and Wall-E-like cinema, Drummer once again offers a vastness of sound effects and meticulously arranged themes and melodies underneath song exteriors that truly enriches his futuristic narrative.

It's however the large song fragmentation that prevents me from making a real connection to Glider Dome. Individually these idea bursting fragments do bring a lush variety of moods and atmospheres that range from the ambient soothing and psychedelic intense to the worldly tribal. But at an average shortness of two to three minutes they simply fail to grab attention and quickly glide away from memory.

Amidst these soundscapes there are several nicely designed synth pop based compositions to be explored that from afar resonate with impressions of Ultravox (Escaping Earth) and Alphaville (The Wedding). While the rhythmic bass driven album highlight Dreams Come True enters a delightful gateway to a pleasure dome reminiscent of Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate. But unfortunately these finer attractive moments are in the minority and all together can't save me from reporting that I find Glider Dome to be of lesser coherence and satisfying identifying nature when compared to its convincing predecessor War Of Shadows.

For new wave, EM, and synth-pop enthusiasts able to find a connection Glider Dome may however well be worth an hour of your time. Have a listen.

Light — The Path

France
2023
77:32
Light - The Path
Seekness (14:15), Cornua (1:31), The Sweet Release of Death (5:04), Blue Sun (8:38), Tibia (1:19), Betray (3:13), Newts (6:44), Electris (1:40), The Sublimation of an Oak (4:13), Tympana (1:23), Dive (13:57), Chalemia (1:47), Mesmerize (3:12), Burning Birds (7:12), Lux Aeterna (3:24)
7
Ignacio Bernaola

It may be a bit late to review this album because it was released more than a year ago, but I'm sure most of our readers don't know anything about this band, or project, so let's check it out because it's quite interesting. As with everything, it's not for everyone in the room. Let's start by saying that it's not easy to find information about the band due to the common band name and due to the fact that I don't use Facebook or Instagram, but I managed to find some interesting videos on YouTube, and of course in their Bandcamp page.

The mastermind behind Light is multi-instrumentalist / composer / arranger Camille De Carvalho and apparently this project was conceived more than thirteen years ago as a one-man adventure. Funny thing because what we have now is a team of 24 musicians playing 112 instruments. Check out the Bandcamp page to see the full list.

So, this album may not be for the average progressive rock listener. There is a need to be able to appreciate and enjoy different and complicated music styles at the same time. In The Path you will find complex arrangements that are old acquaintances around here, but mixed with some classical music parts leading towards jazzy parts and some ambient passages that may be a little confusing.

This mix is interesting but not easy to get at first listening, because one has to be concentrated in full, and then the total playing time of 77 minutes could well be a challenge. I guess things would have been easier not having the five short interludes, or even cutting some extended passages in the longer compositions. I couldn't help thinking of that great album called Cerulean Blue by the band Rain. Not as complex but more concise while showing also very deep emotions in a very soft way.

It is just my view of course, but sometimes the musical parts don't add much to the song, causing the listener´s attention to disperse. On the other hand it must be said that the performances here are superb and the whole album gives off a scent of elegance and sophistication that is truly appreciated these days. The few vocal parts are interesting and well executed, adding an extra layer to the mix of musical styles and not needing more vocals or choruses. In short, The Path is good album that could have been better. I hope that bunch of musicians can meet again and produce more music for people looking for new ways of making your mind float through soft sounds.

Poor Genetic Material — Possibilities

Germany
2024
43:06
Poor Genetic Material - Possibilities
Possibilities (6:06), Rain (8:17), A Spark Of Ideas (6:30), Old Buffoon (4:28), An Island In Time (12:49), Contingency (4:56)
7
Greg Cummins

With album number 15 now under their belt, you'd think that a band with a career spanning almost 25 years would have generated far more interest among music fans compared to what the statistics on RateYourMusic might suggest. Admittedly, this is yet another band that I had heard about but had not delved too deeply into their back catalogue due to simply not really knowing where to start. Given the chance to review their latest album it is probably fitting to see exactly what they have been up to since hearing their Spring Tidings album from 2006. That album is the only one I have from their vast catalogue so my ability to compare their current offering with anything they have done previously is a little limited.

The opening title song includes some nice multipart harmonies and is accompanied by equally pleasant flute. It is also very accessible so it's makes sense to include it as song number one and helps ensure you are taking notice.

Softly struck acoustic guitar gives way to some solid drumming back-stopped with great keyboards on "Rain" before the vocals chime in. And boy, do they chime in. The singing on this excellent track is enhanced with great multipart harmonies once again and along with a nice synth section, this helps to complete the picture. Unfortunately, however, the last 30 seconds or so are somewhat ruined for me when the vocals indulge in some extraneous poetry viz a viz, reciting It's Raining, It's Pouring, The Old Man is Snoring. I'm not sure what the intention was here exactly, but it certainly does nothing for my ears.

A Spark Of Ideas is a little more extravagant and in some respect you could liken the opening sections of the song to something Crowded House might have released, mixed with some embellishments from just about any modern progressive rock / Neo prog band doing the rounds these days. It's sufficiently adventurous without being too complex for the average listener.

The influences I am hearing are quite vast and extend to all parts of the planet. Others have commented they sound like Canadian band Visible Wind and I certainly hear that influence at times. On other songs I am reminded somewhat of Dutch band The Nits along with UK art rockers 10CC, particularly with the track, Old Buffon. This bounces along quite well without being overly adventurous and for the closing sections, we hear a snippet of UK glam rockers Queen thanks to a few sections that you would swear were created by Uncle Freddie singing Bohemian Rhapsody.

An Island Of Time is the longest piece, clocking in at just under 13 minutes and gives the band ample time to stretch out and exploit their creative talents. Pensive flutes dance between softer acoustic sections after which, the song explores some tasty synthesizer sections but is always underpinned by the predictable yet competent vocals. It's probably reasonable to say this song could have been a little better had it been a slightly more convincing and challenging.

The final track completes a reasonable musical journey but contains a smattering of excellent drumming, utilising a series of double triplets which I always enjoy hearing. Go the drummer!

Despite their undeniable talent and artistic vision, it's puzzling why Poor Genetic Material has not achieved a greater degree of acceptability in the mainstream music scene. Perhaps it's due to the band's refusal to adhere to genre conventions or compromise their artistic integrity in pursuit of commercial success. Or maybe their music simply hasn't found the right audience yet. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: Poor Genetic Material is a band that deserves to be heard, and Possibilities is a testament to their enduring creativity and passion for music. Let's face it! With 25 years in the business, it would be reasonable to assume the band have found their way. This is yet another example of a talented second-tier band releasing a very good, if not perfect album that will please many listeners. Great band name too!

Don Schiff — Anthology

USA
2023
43:49, 38:47, 71:15
Don Schiff - Anthology
Timeless: Timeless (2:41), Rainfall (5:26), Where Circles End (4:40), Silence Speaks So Loud (4:35), Maybe This Time (5:16), UnSpoken Words (6:04), Assassins Notebook (3:11), Emmett's Prelude (1:26), Rise (7:32), Timeless Reprise (4:58)
Wait By The River: Wait By The River (4:43), Make It With You (5:16), Letters In The Sand (6:29), Louienstein (4:39), Deep Within My Soul (4:13), Wake Me Up (When My Life Begins) (5:00), With Life In Hand (3:40), Always Lovin' You (4:47)
Peering Over Clouds: Peering Over Clouds (7:17), Winds Of Fire, Winds Of Change (5:28), Under The Olive Tree (5:09), Secret World (6:25), Inside The Color Of Dreams (7:21), Tomorrow's Magic (4:29), Reflective View (5:32), From Where The Past Began (6:17), The Eighth Wonder (5:18), A Whiter Shade Of Pale (4:56), Talking In Tongues (4:00), Between Sound And Silence (1:25), Crossing The Lines Of Reason (7:38)
6
Bruce Warren

There are a few musicians in the world that are known as the icons of their instruments. There are even fewer, like Don Schiff, who are known for being the only well known player of the instrument — in his case, the NS/Stick Bass Guitar. But such is the case for Schiff, and it is what makes his Anthology, combining his three solo albums, such a treat. We are treated to three distinct albums: 1999's Timeless, 2002's Wait By The River, and 2005's Peering Over The Clouds — each of which gives us a different feel for Schiff's NS/Stick playing and what the instrument can do.

The NS/Stick is described as an "eight-string stereo multimode instrument" and consists of four bass tapping strings, along with an additional four tapping "melody" strings. It may look like an AI hallucination of a bass guitar, but in Schiff's capable hands it is capable of providing a full band sound. The two-handed bass and melody tapping is so fluid, you forget it is all Schiff.

The beauty of Anthology is that we get three different records, instead of retreads or same sounds. We lead off with Timeless (Spotify, iTunes) from 1999. This is the only record without a drummer added on, so we have drum loops throughout. A pop-oriented prog record (but still very much a prog record), it reminded me of both Asia and Sting solo work, particularly in the title track and its Reprise. Schiff includes vocals on this record. He has a good, not great, voice, but we are here for the tapping. Silence Speaks So Loud is the standout track on the album, and it includes a wonderful syncopated interplay with his drum loops. Highly bass driven, other tracks to check out include the instrumental Assassins Notebook and Rise. If reviewed alone, I would give Timeless 6/10.

Wait By The River (Spotify, iTunes), Schiff's 2002 release with Bob Doo on drums, is a fine album for what it is — a more easy-listening sound than prog. This is a prog site, so I need to weight it on that. With Life In Hand gives another fine example of "Stick work" and is the standout track for me. Wait is definitely a pretty album, with much more work on the melody strings; it is also a disappointment. If reviewed alone, 4.5/10.

We come to the third and final disc in the set and the fully instrumental Peering Over Clouds (Spotify, iTunes) ends the set with the best of the three. The title track comes out of the gate fast and hard, setting a completely different path than either of the prior two releases. Peering is the most interesting listen, as well as the most complex, partly owing to drummer Greg Ellis' great dynamics backing up Schiff; see the great Winds Of Fire, Winds Of Change. For his own part, Schiff reminds us the NS/Stick is not just a bass, and he spends more time on the melody strings on this record than any others (see Secret World). Other great tracks include Reflective View and a great cover of Procol Haram's A Whiter Shade Of Pale. Peering Over Clouds is a solid 7/10.

The best part of Don Schiff's Anthology is the tour of the musicality and use of the NS/Stick by a true master of the instrument. We go from fast to melodic and both together. Recommend checking it out!

TumbleTown — On The Highwire

Netherlands
2024
55:15
TumbleTown - On The Highwire
On The Highwire (6:31), The Greatest Bragger (4:54), Rush Hour (5:19), Part Of The Wind (4:59), Forget The Road Not Taken (6:21), The Truth Now (4:54), In The Eye Of The Storm (8:36), Thoughts Of Love (4:03), Trapped On Memory Lane (5:38), Time For Joy (4:00)
9
Jerry van Kooten

I was rather looking forward to this one. It has been almost 6 years since their previous album, Never Too Late. After such a good album it's always a bit of a risk to let your expectations grow. But now in hindsight I can say I had no reason to worry.

The album opens most impressively. Magical melodies that were so prominent on the previous album are here to stay and take the listener in a warm embrace. Lush keyboard melodies by Erik Laan, Han Uil's warm voice, Aldo A dema's excellent guitar play. And although a guest musician, Erik's son Arjan is laying an intricate layer of drums for the rest of the music to build on, and his contribution is an important factor to the strength of this album. Several sections alternate, some slowly, some abruptly.

While most of this track is just delicious, there are two moments that I found so utterly beautiful. Both involve acoustic guitar, coincidentally. There is a dual guitar section with acoustic and electric guitar where the melodies are interwoven with different types of strings. Later, the acoustic guitar is plays over the rather loud harmonic section. Several times I had to stop whatever I was doing, it was so breathtaking. How this has come out of the mix says something about the sound engineer's work as well.

As if it is nothing, The Greatest Bragger just continues and impresses no less. In under 5 minutes so much is happening. In a few sections the keyboards make brass sounds and the song fits the sound, making me look in wonder for a moment. But it fits! Several unexpected breaks and changes and again thundering drums. The orchestration plus keyboard and guitar melodies sometimes remind me of contemporary Comedy Of Errors.

And then to find it simply does not stop, the album just keeps on giving. The songs just keep on coming. A few breathers, but never a whole song. Every song is filled with riffs, breaks, changes, and amazing melodies and solos. There is not a bad song, not even a bad moment on this disc. And although there are heavy parts, it's not prog metal. Overall, it feels like the album is a little heavier than the previous one. Something my taste doesn't mind at all, by the way, but it's just so powerful and intense. It is simply captivating from start to finish.

The music is truly progressive with a heartfelt level of emotional content. Parts are in clear neo-prog style with a Dutch twist, but the compositions and arrangements take in influences from all around and build a style of their own. Complex in structure but arranged and played organically. It makes sense while it also keeps on surprising you.

The origins of the musicians from bands like Egdon Heath, Seven Day Hunt, and Chain Reaktor are shining through. This album shows TumbleTown are a unique combination seemingly offering the best of all combined.

Damn, this is some impressive album. With this quality I can imagine it takes several years to write and arrange. Take your time, guys, this will keep me busy for a long time.

Album Reviews